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Have you ever wondered what the environment is like in a real Nashville studio session? What happens over the course of the day… how do things actually come together… how does a drummer need to function and behave in that world?

Answer: This video. Watch this video. It totally nails that world.

A few comments/observations:

– Paul takes a lot of control in the session (ie, choosing a tempo at 2:50 and counting off the take at 4:40). He’s not the producer, but he’s still very assertive and in command. This is a must for drummers. I don’t care what your personality is like in normal life… as soon as you sit down behind the drumset you need to be very type A. The drumset is the instrument in the band that naturally has the most influence, and the band needs the drummer to be a leader.

– The “Bat Maaaaan” suggestion at 2:23, the “4 down 4 up” comment at 4:40, the reference to the “pretty woman” groove at 8:32… these are all phrases that describe common motifs a band will use in a performance. Slang like this is helpful in communicating to the other players about how a track should be approached. Pay attention to the nuances of how to get in and out of the various sections in a song and learn how to speak about these nuances using terms like these.

– Regarding the “Pretty Woman” riff, notice how that idea developed as the take was in process. Paul had a rough idea of how to play the song once he sat down to record, but during the performance he was inspired to follow certain details down a different direction. The studio isn’t necessarily an improvisation environment, but a good studio player will be able to roll with developments and evolutions in the ideas.

– At 7:00 Paul is speaking about how one gets hired in the Nashville studio world, and it’s clearly about one’s mind MORE than one’s chops. The practice room is an essential component to being a professional musician, but so also is the ability to keep up with changes that are being implemented in the moment. Nobody cares about the patterns or fills you can play if you are always confused about WHEN to play them.

– Getting a complete “perfect take” is definitely desirable, but punches and edits are commonplace (9:00). Again, ideas morph and evolve in real time.

– The Nashville number system is a charting method used heavily in the studio world. It’s mainly about “key” and therefore not necessarily drummer related, but it’s still a good thing to be familiar with.

– At 11:15 Paul does some overdubbing… a trick where the drummer plays on top of a previously recorded drum track, with the end result being something that can’t be replicated by only one drummer in a single performance. That’s not a problem for a recording session. Modern studio technology makes overdubbing very easy, but before I got into the studio scene I wasn’t really thinking that way. The challenge of performing a song live is a totally different creature than the challenge of creating a cool track in the studio. Don’t expect that everything on an album was created in a single take.

– While Paul is punching-in fills he makes a comment that shows his awareness of the vocal as a factor in whether the fill works or not (10:52). This is key. A fill’s coolness is always contingent on the overall musical context, and the vocal is the primary context of a mainstream pop/rock/country song.

– At 3:42 you can clearly see Paul using a snare dampening tool of some kind. I’ve read a lot about Snare Weight lately, but Paul’s seems to be homemade. Either way, snare dampening is a very common thing in sessions. I usually use moongels myself.

– Paul, like so many of the well-known studio players, is a Paiste guy.

– The quote at 13:10: “I’m fortunate to be playing with my buds every day”… this really nails the overall point of being a musician. If you want to get into the studio world because of some sort of desire for status or accomplishment or money – well, don’t bother. That stuff won’t come very easily in the session player scene. One needs to be content with the simple act of making music, and if you are, the studio world will be a BLAST.

Although I’ve never played one of these drums, from all indications it looks like Yamaha’s version of a supraphonic.  So it probably sounds amazing, being that Yamaha is a killer company and supras are killer drums.

Regardless of what the drum sounds like, Nashville session great Paul Leim has some insightful words about snare tone in the studio on this clip…

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